Welcome back to the Malazan Empire! This time, instead of another prequel, we’re picking up roughly a decade after the events of The Crippled God. So before we dive into our discussion of the opening few chapters of Steven Erikson’s The God Is Not Willing (TGINW), we thought it prudent to offer up a bit of a refresher on what’s what, where’s where, and who’s who, not to mention who is still alive, who’s dead, who is still dead, who was alive then dead then alive again and is still alive, who was alive then dead then, well, you get the idea. Though it needn’t be said, I’m going to say it anyway: Given that this is a recap of pertinent events and people from the Malazan Book of the Fallen (MBoT), there will be spoilers—sundry and specific—for, well, all of it (no spoilers here for The God Is Not Willing, though). That said, what this is not is any attempt at a full plot summary, because let’s face it, that would be absurd…
Genebackis is one of the larger continents of the Malazan Empire. Once home to the “Free Cities,” it has for some years now been under the dominion of the Empire. Its most famous and largest city, lying in the middle of the landmass, is Darujhistan, “The City of Blue Fire”, so named for its use of natural gas to light the city. The far north of the continent holds the Laederon Plateau, home to the Teblor.
These are MBoTF characters who will either appear or are referenced in TGINW, or whose actions reverberate in the novel (in other words, appearing in this list doesn’t mean they show up in the new book). And because I’m guessing many reviewers will label TGINW as more “accessible” than the main sequence, meaning some readers might enter the universe here (though I’d advise against it myself), I’m going to include some very basic info for rookies while still trying to keep the descriptions as brief as possible. Finally, a reminder that in this series, “dead” does not equal “inactive.”
Karsa Orlong: A warrior of the Teblor—a giant, long-lived people who reside in northern Genebackis. Karsa is a nearly unstoppable force, almost impossible to kill, nearly entirely immune to magic, and a slayer of many (including gods). When still a “youngster,” he and two friends left their mountain home and raided Silver Lake, a small town of human southlanders (or “children,” as the Teblor call them). Though they killed many, Karsa’s friends died, and he was captured and made a slave, though he later escaped. Because of tattoos on his face, he is known also as “The Shattered God.”
Damisk: A Nthii lowlander from northern Genebackis. He fought on the losing side against the Malazan army and then worked as a guard/hunter in Silver Lake for the slave master/trader Silgar (the Empire has since outlawed slavery). He was involved in Karsa’s enslavement, but was arrested and sent along with Silgar, Karsa, and others to the Otataral Mines, though they never got there. In their travels, Damisk sided with Silgar against Karsa, but eventually Karsa got the upper hand, capturing Silgar while Damisk fled. Since then Damisk has been in Silver Lake hunting.
Dayliss: A Teblor woman. Karsa and his friend Bairoth, who accompanied him on the raid of Silver Lake, both vied for her attention, though in reality the “vying” was all in Karsa’s mind as she had for some time made her preference for Bairoth known to him and was in fact pregnant with Bairoth’s child when he and Karsa left.
Kellanved/Shadowthrone and Dancer/Cotillion: Partners in crime (literally) who created and expanded the Malazan Empire, with Kellanved serving as Emperor until he and Dancer were killed by another partner, Surly, who then claimed the throne as Empress Laseen. Kellanved and Dancer “ascended” (a post-death transformation into something greater—sometimes but not always godhood) and now kinda sorta rule the Shadow realm, from where they occasionally slightly meddle in mortal affairs and often annoy the other Great Powers.
Mallick Rel: Current emperor. (I hate Mallick Rel.)
The Bridgeburners: A fabled company of the Empire’s army, they’ve since mostly died (a few remain alive) and ascended. They now guard the land of the dead.
Whiskeyjack/Iskar Jarak: Former commander of the Bridgeburners when they were alive, he commands them still in the land of the dead
Spindle: A mage and one of the last surviving (as in still living, as in not even a little dead) Bridgeburners. Last we saw in Orb, Sceptre, Throne, Spindle had left Darujhistan and was heading south. He’s since rejoined the Malazan army.
Monkrat: A mage and a deserter from the Bridgeburners. Though originally a bad guy in Toll the Hounds, he was moved down a different path by Spindle, and the two of them helped save some children from being killed in Black Coral, home at the time to the Tiste Andii.
Ganoes Paran: Former captain of the Bridgeburners who ascended and became the Master of the Deck (sort of an Ascendant amongst Ascendants).
Coltaine: A “Fist” (high commander) of the Malazan army who, against all odds, led a majority of a large group of refugees across a continent to safety, a retreat known as the Chain of Dogs. Though the refugees were delivered safely, Coltaine and his entire army, minus a handful, were killed in the process.
Anomander Rake/Son of Darkness: Leader of the extremely long-lived Tiste Andii race. After centuries of existence he sacrificed himself for his people.
Probably Pertinent Plot Points to Keep in Mind
By the end of the main sequence of Malazan books, Mallick Rel had manipulated events so as to worm his way into power, ready to step into the Emperor’s seat once Laseen was assassinated. He has since stabilized the borders, and the Empire has mostly known ten years of peace in the intervening years.
Karsa, despite his vows to lead an “army of Teblor” to destroy civilization, has instead remained in the city of Darujhistan. Staying with him, at least at times, are his two daughters, Delas and Tonith, both of whom are full-blooded Teblor, and his lover Samar Dev. Karsa has had no contact with his son Rant, who like his half-sisters is the product of rape, though his mother was human, not Teblor. Delas and Tonith have lived at times with the Teblor while Rant has stayed with his mother in Silver Lake.
Toward the end of the main sequence, one of the more powerful ascendants, Icarium, created a new set of “warrens,” which are the means by which most magic is accomplished in this universe (and yes, there’s a lot more to warrens but that’s a nearly a book-length post in itself). Mages are still trying to figure out how to utilize these new warrens safely and effectively.
While most of the Bridgeburners have died, several are retired (officially “deserters”) and live in Darujhistan
Toward the end of the main sequence, the alliance with the Moranth people, supplier of the explosive munitions employed by the Malazan armies, was on and off, and there were some difficulties supplying the army. So much so that in The Crippled God, Hedge turned to a human alchemist to create some alternatives.
The Jaghut, one of the Elder races, employed a form of magic usually involving cold and ice. As their magic wanes, the great ice sheets they created are melting away.
The Jheck are shapeshifters who transform (“veer”) into wolves. Some are D’ivers, meaning they can split themselves into several bodies when they veer.
We’ve of course barely scratched the surface of the massive universe of the Malazan Empire here, but this should be enough background for our foray into the prologue of The God Is Not Willing one week from today. You can find the prologue here along with links to the first and second chapters, which we’ll be discussing over the next few weeks leading up to the book’s U.S release on October 9th. (Note: Because TGINW was published in the U.K. in July, some potential spoilers may appear in the comments below, so please proceed at your own risk.) See you for more Malazan next Monday!
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; regularly reviews for Fantasy Literature; and pens the occasional post (or seven-year reread) for Tor.com. He lives in Rochester, NY, where in addition to writing and reading, he bikes to work as an adjunct English instructor, plays ultimate Frisbee and disc golf, and looks forward to the six-week hiking/camping trip he takes every summer. He can also be found on Twitter.